Pop quiz – do commas go inside or outside the quotation marks?
Answer: A) Inside*
In the thousands of news releases that cross the desks of the PR Newswire Customer Content Services team on a weekly basis, I would say this ranks as one of the most common mistakes that the Customer Content Services team corrects. It’s not a showstopper, by any means, and not nearly as serious as some of the typos we catch (you’d be amazed).
* As with most grammar rules, there are exceptions depending on which side of the pond you are on. In the U.S., the comma (or other punctuation) goes inside the quote marks, regardless of logic. My favorite recap of the rules on this comes from the Dummies brand and covers most scenarios.
What’s interesting about this topic is really how the U.S. grammar rules vary from the British. British grammar rules focus on the context and want the punctuation placed “logically” versus “conventionally”. (See what I did there?)
Adding even more fodder to the fire is good old-fashioned typography as a primary reason Americans placed punctuation inside their quote marks. When printing used raised bits of metal, "." and "," were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had a '"' on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using '."' and ',"' rather than '".' and '",', regardless of logic (taken from the Guide to Grammar and Writing). In today’s digital age, it seems that we could eliminate this rule as easily as the rule of two spaces following a period.
Want my ultimate advice? Pick a style and stick with it. In 99% of my writing, I’ll follow the American rule of tucking my punctuation marks neatly inside the quotation marks, except for that teeny tiny 1% where context or logic necessitates it being outside (and please know that inconsistency makes an editor's brain hurt).
In other news, the Associated Press announced they were relaxing their stance even further on “more than” vs. “over.” A part of me has died. I just talked about this topic in February. How do you feel about AP’s new position on this rule?
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.